Keeping Time with the 10 Best Live Music Haunts in the City

The power of live music to make folks feel good is on full display at a host of New York nightclubs, cabaret spaces, and rooftop bars with spectacular views of the Hudson or East River. If listening to bands and vocalists show off their skills is how you like to spend an evening, you'll find that New York does things right. Multiple options let you tap into the venues that 10Best readers favor, like Amateur Night at the fabled Apollo in Harlem, or  B.B. King's Blues Club & Grille steps away from Times Square or scale the heights to Dizzy's Club-CocaCola for a bird's eye view of Central Park and an international line up of jazz artists. Prefer a low-key ambiance, follow the natives to the leafy streets of Park Slope for a mellow night at Barbes. At 40, the venerable Cornelia St. Café still puts out a sizzling stream of dulcet tones and hot jazz nightly while the Sidewalk Café on Avenue A taps to the sound of its own off-beat lineups year round. Keep in mind that where you go is just as important as when you go to a place – some nights the place is electricifying, sometimes it's the luck of the draw. Try to keep up with the acts you really want to see and book them when you see the listing, this is NYC people act fast. Best sources for the current week's happenings and live performances is the weekly magazine, Time Out  or PAPERMAG, both of which keep a close eye on pop culture, nightlife and music.


For those who wouldn't think of leaving Manhattan to catch a live band, consider this: Folks who're regulars at Park Slope's Barbes have no intention of passing up the free shows here. Who can blame them? The two French musicians and long-time residents who run the smart, cafe-styled space are committed to exposing their crowds to as many different types of music as they can find, leading them to book everything from opera singers to East European funk acts to Mexican bands. Performance space hosts other events too such as readings and film screenings. A great find especially if you plan to stay in one of the newer Brooklyn hotels.

East Village

SideWalk Cafe is an East Village landmark that, in addition to being a popular neighborhood dining spot, bar and burger joint, is recognized as an important venue for emerging singer-songwriters and other performing artists. In the mid-1980s, when SideWalk opened at the corner of 6th Street and Avenue A, the East Village was caught in a swirl of societal cross-currents. On one hand, it pulsed with dynamic creative energy as adventurous galleries and performance spaces sprung up in storefronts and repurposed buildings – on the other hand there was also a tumultuous and edgy quality to the area. Today, Sidewalk remains a hotbed of live music, comedy seven nights a week, and supports spoken word festivals and literary readings.

East Village

Attached to the Public Theatre, Joe's Pub is an intimate venue that's highly regarded all over the city for its eclectic weekly lineups. On any given night, the featured performer may be a little-known jazz ensemble or a pop-culture icon like Elvis Costello, Liz Phair, Neko Case, David Byrne, Mos Def or Sandra Bernhard. The scene has an unmistakable "old school" quality that incorporates velvet couches, lucite tables and plenty of dark-stained wood. At Joe's Pub acclaimed Chef John Ramirez has created an American menu of bar snacks, shareable appetizers while award-winning bartenders combine house-made mixers and takes an updated approach to the classics. Dinner is served 6-10:30 PM, Late Night Menus from 11PM-1:00 AM. Table reservations are accepted when tickets are purchased.

B.B. King's Blues Club & Grille

Named after the celebrated "king of the blues" B.B.King and ideally situated in bustling Times Square, is a space that hosts musical talent from blues, jazz, and hip-hop to funk, blue grass and even heavy metal.There is clear viewing access to the performance while guests are enjoying food and drinks or dancing. The dim lighting sets the mood for a night out listening to music though the latest sound and video equipment. The long bar with "B.B. King" lit up above it is a tribute to the legendary artist. There have been notable people who have performed here including Gloria Gaynor, Patti Austin, and B.B. King Himself. Lucille's Grill is a bar located within the B.B. King Blue's Club and was named after the late BB king's beloved guitar.

Cornelia Street Cafe
Photo courtesy of Cornelia St. Cafe

In May 1977 three artists stumbled across a tiny storefront in the heart of Greenwich Village and thought it was the perfect place to open a café. Years later, it was proclaimed a culinary and cultural landmark. Every inch of this place reeks creativity: art on the walls, lively chatter, live music downstairs every single night of the week. Spoken word, literary readings, jazz, swing, cutting edge. Singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega started out here, as did Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues, members of Monty Python & the Royal Shakespeare Company intermittently perform here. CSC schedules 700 shows a year, two a night, ranging from science to songwriting, from Russian poetry to Latin jazz, from theatre to cabaret.

Lincoln Center is a New York tradition boasting the heaviest jazz cats along with some inspiring up-and-comers. Find emerging performers on Monday nights (always rewarding shows), and the rest of the week don't miss world famous musicians. Named for Dizzy Gillespie and the soda, Coca Cola, featuring Southern cuisine and the cool tones of the hottest jazz groups around – from Latin to international groups the world over. Stimulate more than your ears with soulfood staples like homemade pecan pie, collard greens and fried chicken. Table reservations are encouraged for early sets but late-nights are walk-in only.

Murray Hill

Considered one of the very best relaunches, The Cutting Room landed at its new location on East 32nd Street between Park and Madison. Building on a decade of history that includes some of today's top performers - John Mayer, Lady Gaga, Sting, Sheryl Crow and David Bowie are just some of the artists that have graced the stage of the Cutting Room at its previous location. The new Cutting Room continues the tradition of extraordinary performances and special moments, with a fresh new take on what a rock club & lounge should feel like.

Lower East Side

Housed in a lovely Beaux Arts building that dates this music venue was built just before the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Today it brings top acts while also maintaining its edgy attitude. What's more, the classic swankiness of the brass handrails and mahogany walls is a nice complement to more modern elements like, say, the state-of-the-art sound system. Featured performers have included Patti Smith, Sean Lennon, Coldplay, Metallica and White Stripes. The club is also the namesake of Joan Baez's Bowery Songs album recorded live here. The box office accepts cash only.

The Apollo Theater

The new Harlem Renaissance is in full swing inside this neo-classical structure, home to The Apollo Theater. Designed in 1914, it received landmark status in 1983. Some say it is one of the most influential entertainment venues in the world. Home to the famous "Showtime" and "Amateur Night at the Apollo," this theater's rich history of bringing some of the most talented African-American performers to the stage. Since 1935 the stage at the Apollo has been a home for greats like Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr., Stevie Wonder and the Jackson Five. Today, the theater operates under nonprofit status and is still popular with young audiences for hosting fresh local and national talent.

Lower East Side

Rockwood started off as a cramped storefront space that has expanded into one of the most loved downtown multi-stages. Located between Houston and Stanton, Rockwood is a cozy listening room that engages patrons with its sophisticated atmosphere and fascinating live music slate. Snug and dimly lit, the venue is a great place to catch performances by singer-songwriters, and the seats are arranged close to the stage, affording a certain level of intimacy between the performers and the crowd. Stop in before the show, and enjoy a little something from the bar paired with a charcuterie plate. Owner Ken Rockwood, aka "The Professor," is himself a musician of no small acclaim.


Meet Maria Lisella

No matter how many countries Maria Lisella has visited (62), this native New Yorker finds the world at her doorstep in amazing Queens where its residents speak 138 languages.

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